Saturday, December 22, 2018

God Loves Scrooge

God loves Scrooge, mean miser that he is.  People struggle to love Scrooge because it is so hard to love someone we do not like. But God loves Scrooge just like he is.

God knows that inside the ‘mean miser Scrooge’ is the ‘happy generous Scrooge’.  That’s who God loves, the Scrooge inside, because God can see the Scrooge inside even when Scrooge cannot see who he can be. Until one day he does see who he can be, and then people see the real Scrooge. That’s why people should love Scrooge too. Love him and then maybe one day you can like him too.

So, to the Scrooge, ‘the bad you’, in all of us, hear the good news of Christmas: you don’t have to change for God to love you. God knows who you can be, and God is going to love the real you until you become the real you.

If only perfect people could come to the Manger and hold the Baby, well then, the Baby would be mighty lonely and cold on Christmas Eve.

This Christmas Eve God invites the Skeptics, the Doubters, the ‘Not-yet-Believers’, the ‘I’m-too-Busy’, the ‘I-Have-Other-Plans’, the ‘I-Hate-Hypocrites’, the Scrooges lurking in all of us.  You are all, each and every one of us, invited to hold the Baby.  Be careful though: you know what happens when you hold a baby.  The baby doesn’t change. You do.

And that is the meaning of Christmas too.

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”
-Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (Source: inward/outward Together)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mighty Warrior, Prince of Peace

Desmond Doss wouldn’t carry a rifle.  That didn’t define his life. What defined him was what, or who he would carry.

As Desmond Doss and the troops of the 77th Infantry Division fought to secure Hacksaw Ridge, recently made famous again by the movie, they came up against seemingly insurmountable odds. One night, with his wounded friends calling out for help, while the enemy kept up its barrage, Desmond Doss ran back into the battlefield. He was on a mission to save those wounded soldiers. He carried the first one to safety, lowering him on a rope down the escarpment to the beach below. Then he prayed to his God that he might be mighty enough to save just one more. And he did. Seventy-five times, seventy-five lives saved by this one soldier who would not carry a weapon, but who would carry his friends.  In the end, Desmond Doss is transformed in the eyes of his superiors from one mentally unfit to serve to a hero who earns the rarely awarded Medal of Honor.

As we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, Joy Sunday, we find that God has a title, ‘Mighty Warrior’. (Zephaniah 3:17) Is this the Messiah whose coming again we await? Don’t we celebrate the Messiah who is the Prince of Peace? Is the Mighty Warrior also the Prince of Peace?

The picture painted by the whole of Scripture is textured with beautiful, multi-layered images of Messiah. When we take in the full picture we understand why we need a ‘Christ’.

The human race, the earth, the universe itself, is at war.  The war against sin and sins. The war against evil. The war against complacency in the face of hate and prejudice.  We are in a war, full of daily battles against so many demons of so many varieties.  We long for peace, a peace that will finally result in joy.

How do we ultimately find joy? We, wounded soldiers all, are carried by a Mighty Warrior to the shores of Peace. And when we are safely there, the prophet gives us one more picture which stirs our souls: The Mighty Warrior ‘will rejoice over you with singing.’  Joy, joy, joy. The Mighty Warrior, the Prince of Peace, sings with joy over you, his redeemed.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jesus Meets Satan in the Capitol

If you visit the Illinois State Capitol you will see the encounter between Jesus and Satan. It is, of course, an encounter of symbols.  Representing Jesus: a Christmas Tree and holly. Representing Satan: a statue depicting a snake wrapped around an arm holding an apple.  The intended meaning of the symbol is displayed on a sign which reads: “”Knowledge is the greatest gift.” (source: Madeline Holcombe 

What fascinates me about this story is that the Satanic Temple, which sponsors the statue, claims on its’ website, "We do not promote a belief in a personal Satan…To embrace the name Satan is to embrace rational inquiry removed from supernaturalism and archaic tradition-based superstitions."  In other words, Satan isn’t a person; ‘Satan’ is an ‘idea’ or a ‘belief’ that denies the personhood of Jesus Christ. If Satan isn’t a real person, then neither is Jesus. The symbols, in the minds of the Satanic Temple members, represent a battle, then, of knowledge versus superstition.  Christmas, they would say, is a myth created by the superstitious for the entertainment of the ignorant.

When boiled down to its essence, Christmastide is a series of symbols celebrating the gift of God’s Son to save a doubting, dying world.  Meanwhile, the ‘world’ not only denies Jesus is God but in fact sees the whole “Christmas” season as ‘archaic tradition-based superstitions.’  Christmas: ’tis the season for a good economy fueled by the duped, they say.

Much of the world is happy to celebrate the concepts of  ‘peace, joy, love and hope’. Even the members of the Satanic Temple embrace the "struggle for justice" and believe people should "strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures," according to its website. The question is whether the world waits this season for a real person.

What makes the members of the Church of Jesus Christ different from the members of the Satanic Temple? “Come and worship, come and worship, worship________, the newborn king.”

Fill in the blank.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Hold On For One More Day"

I am not sure if I should admit this publicly: I am a huge fan of the 1990’s ‘girl band’, Wilson Phillips. I love their close harmonies, and how they sing like they ‘believe it’.

My car radio service allows me to ‘tag’ songs that I want to switch to whenever they come on. (An expensive indulgence, but I am a commuter, so give me a break.)  One song I tagged is “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.  You may find me zooming along on Hwy. 23 demonstratively urging myself and the world to believe that ‘things’ll go your way’.  As I was in the recovery mode from one recent rendition I started thinking about the background of this song, and how appropriate the song is for an Advent tune. Stay with me here.  

December, when the church celebrates anticipation by waiting in darkness for the light to appear, is a time when many suffer from depression.  I have experienced this myself. The demands of the season in terms of year-end work and family events; the off-the-chart expectations that everyone will miraculously become nice and friendly on Christmas Eve and Day; this is a formula for mild depression hitting lots of people.  It’s just too much.

So, here is my suggestion: memorize this lyric. When you are standing in line at the register; when you are chasing children to get ready for the holiday events; when you are struggling with how to pay for all of those presents you want to buy; just sing this line: “Don’t you know? Don’t you know things can change?...Hold on for one more day.”

Seriously, Chynna Phillips explains in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Story Behind the Song, that this song was born out of her own efforts to ‘stay sober’. She explains she was ‘at a crossroads’, where she could stay on a path in which her life would fall apart, or she could find the courage and strength to change direction. But first, she just needed to ‘hold on for one more day’, to get to tomorrow. This song became a #1 Hit because of its message of Advent Hope:  Your life can change. Just hold on, friend, for one more day; things will go your way.

Your Hope is on the way.